Van Cleef and Arpels' president talks about the house's recent exhibition, the potential in the Thai market and the importance of picking a stone that speaks to you
KNOWN THE world over as the symbol of passion and love and considered the most valuable gem in the world after the coloured diamond, the ruby has inspired the house of high jewellery Van Cleef and Arpels ever since its founding. Indeed, in searching for these precious stones, the Arpels brothers made numerous voyages to India and the Far East, Thailand included, from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Inspired by Jacques Arpels’ favourite gem, Van Cleef and Arpels recently paid tribute to this legendary stone in a two-day, by-invitation-only exhibition, “Treasure of Rubies” at the Park Nai Lert Heritage Home in Bangkok. The exhibition displayed 60 unique pieces of a haute jewellery collection that brought together more than 3,000 carats of certifies rubies collected over the space of several years. Most of them are priceless.
XP was fortunate enough to be granted an interview with Nicolas Bos, president of Van Cleef and Arpels, who offered an insight into the Maison’s stylistic signatures.
CAN YOU PLEASE GIVE SOME BACKGROUND TO THE EXHIBITION “TREASURE OF RUBIES”
At Van Cleef and Arpels, when we work, we like to organise the creations to form collections so that they are not just isolated pieces. We centre them around a story, a theme and common elements to act as a source of inspiration. We do that once or twice a year. We also want to highlight the specific aspect of the house. Creating high jewellery is pretty much a two-step process and sometimes you start with the story. Let’s say ballet: you want to design the ballerina, and from the design you select the stone and create the piece.
Another tradition is to start with the stone, which you will identify and purchase for its specificity because we feel it is important to have precious and interesting stones. Once we have them, we’ll design the piece around the stone. This collection is a way to illustrate that aspect of creation, to show how we work, specifically from the stone and around the stone. We felt that to make it powerful and interesting, we should centre it on a single stone, which is the ruby. It’s an obvious collection with all the pieces based on dominant colour of red.
The idea of a collection is that you have common elements, consistency. We hope to show that through the designs and craftsmanship, we can express the diversity of style and ways to wear the pieces, even though they all start with a ruby. Also to present the stone itself, to show that rubies are not all the same, that within that frame you have different origins, shades and form. If you choose them carefully, you can tell different stories according to what makes them special.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COME TO THAILAND?
For a number of reasons: One of them is that the stone originates in this region – Myanmar, Thailand or Siam as it was. There is also a great deal of travel literature associated with the rubies, from the times when Arpel brothers came here and brought back the stone to Paris. Surrounding the ruby is this idea of exoticism, magical stones that you find in the jungle, and, of course, Bangkok is always central to the cutting and the trade of rubies.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE POTENTIAL OF THE THAI MARKET?
The market here is very well perceived. This is our international event; we’ve brought guests from around the world. We have organised several activities here over the past few years and we have opened a store. We are happy to share all this with clients, and editors from all over the world.
The tradition of jewellery and precious stones in this country is strong. We see the great clients and collectors in Thailand. They are very knowledgeable. And local jewellers have a collection of stones; it’s a very demanding market. We feel that we can develop alongside the Thai community and also consolidate our position in the tourism sector.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO COLLECT |ALL THESE RUBIES?
Some rubies we collected over 10 years, but the project specifically for the purpose of the collection that could express diversity started roughly five years ago.
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO KEEP THE BRAND |RELEVANT TO MODERN SOCIETY?
The brand has been relevant for more than a century – around 110 years, – and while the house has seen a lot of changes and revolutions in fashion, lifestyle and economies, we have always been able to stay true to the brand’s identity. I believe that the appeal for jewellery – high jewellery, exceptional jewellery, daywear, or design jewellery – is something that will continue to exist. Jewellery has been part of civilisation for thousands of years. I don’t see it disappearing anytime soon.
We strongly believe in keeping our integrity, the style of the house and the quality. So we are not trying to change that. The world is moving all the time. We are presenting collections in countries we have not visited before. We are also using digital tools.
I don’t believe there are any reasons to change who we are. We have the opportunity to tell our stories today just as we did 20 years ago. We are also still keen on books and prints, and mix them with social media.
So keeping true to your identity, using the new ways of expressions to convey it both seem to me the way to keep the brand relevant.
COULD YOU TALK ABOUT THE BRAND |CREATIVITY AND ITS DIRECTION?
The long-term success is based on a balance between creativity, expertise, and craftsmanship and business development. We try to create new designs and collections that will translate into commercial success. So it goes hand in hand. If a business relies on absolutely pure creativity and doesn’t attend to the business aspects, it is not possible to make it last for a long time. To do a collection like this, you need time, materials, workshop, craftsman, experts and a business that can support it. Yet if you concentrate only business and lose creativity, after a while clients stop following you. The challenge is to maintain the balance on a daily basis.
From the early days of the house, the expertise, craftsmanship, creativity, and technical development have always been maintained. We also try to develop new types of settings, always using the traditional form of jewellery but still bringing innovations to it, like in our watches.
WHAT IS MEANT BY THE MAISON’S SPIRIT OF ‘PIERRES DE CARATERE’?
It’s an expression we used a few years ago to express and describe how we select stones. Stones go by objective criteria, origin, weight, size and dimension. But they also go for more subjective criteria that cannot really be defined, especially colour stones. Diamonds can be assessed in term of quality, the clarity, and so on. Colour stones are much more difficult. You can have two stones, do everything in the same way – the cutting and so on. But the one we love has personality, is very strong, vibrant, very happy. One may be dull and not so interesting. This is almost impossible to put into numbers or scientific rating. This is what we call character of personality, which is what we look for in the stone, the elements that go beyond physical characteristics. That stone we pick because it speaks to you with certain energy or vibrancy. Another dimension is the emotional value, to find something special, very exciting in the stone, regardless of its value or rank.